6. Rattle and Hum (1988)
“I don’t believe in the 60s, the golden age of pop / You glorify the past when the future dries up.”
— “God Part II”
In 1987, when The Joshua Tree put U2 on top of the world, they decided they’d make a little road movie while they toured America and cut an EP of new songs to accompany it. But a year-plus later, when Rattle and Hum-the-Major Motion Picture movie arrived on the back of a gargantuan Paramount Pictures ad campaign, the U2 backlash was overdue. The album, meanwhile, had likewise swollen into an also somewhat pompous, confused mismash of live versions and covers. And nine new tracks, about, appropriating, and/or co-starring Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, and a bunch of other American legends the guys in U2 were only then just hearing about. They just wanted to share!
It shouldn’t work at all. But as a listening experience, it rattles and hums along almost in spite of itself, hopscotching from Bono’s hilariously inflated declaration in front of the opening “Helter Skelter” — “This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We’re stealing it back!” — to the docks of Dublin (the Edge-sung “Van Diemen’s Land”), to Sun Studios in Memphis, where they cut “Angel of Harlem” and four more, on into the Arizona night for a definitive “Bullet the Blue Sky.” The album ends with Van Dyke Parks’s strings playing out “All I Want Is You,” a much better U2 song to play at your wedding than “One,” by the way. “Desire,” a three chord stomp over a Bo Diddley beat, was an instant classic, too.
In one of the Rattle and Hum-the-movie’s blissfully brief interview segments, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. cracks up while calling the film “a musical journey.” When the ever-scowling Mullen can’t keep it together, you know there’s some bullshit being served. The thing is, the album really does have a sense of travel about it. It’s U2′s best road-tripper. I’m surprised to find it this high on the list, but then again, Dead Letter Office is one of my favorite R.E.M. albums. I like scrapbooks. That’s what this is.